Portfolio Piece: Truckee Tahoe Airport Video

Here’s a quick video I shot and edited for the Truckee Tahoe Airport. The goal was, along with a print campaign, to remind pilots the reason they (or their passengers) fly to Truckee is why anybody comes to Truckee – the mountain character – in hopes that they’ll fly in a way to maintain the piece and quiet we all value.

I’ve shot at Martis Creek Reservoir before, getting pictures of ospreys and bald eagles fishing, pelicans hanging out, arctic terns passing through, and numerous other critters so I knew it would be a great place to illustrate the point. When the clouds were being all beautiful one day I ran out at lunch to grab a few shots and some background noise.


Mountain Biking – A Different Kind of a Love Story

I wasn’t an athlete growing up. Sure, I played little league baseball and soccer, but I wasn’t anybody’s first pick. Or fifth. Skiing had clicked at a young age, but we went on family trips to Badger Pass, a small hill in Yosemite, once a year.

My first sport – a sport I was passionate about and worked for – came down an unlikely path. In the form of unpaid child labor.

My dad did video production in the Silicon Valley when my sister and I were growing up – mostly filming and animating corporate video for tech clients used at trade shows. Accordingly you could find my sister or me at fairly young ages wearing full white clean suits in silicon wafer manufacturing facilities dragging coiled cables and colored lighting gels around in our free time.

One day, when I was a teenager, too young to drive, my dad woke me up early on a Sunday (early for a teenager being before 11 a.m.). He was filming for Specialized Bikes, and needed some free child labor. It meant riding a Specialized team bike with pro riders at Wilder Ranch (an amazing mountain biking spot for those who don’t know; I certainly didn’t) in Santa Cruz for a safety video. I was too stubborn to know that I wanted to go.

My sister and I dutifully pedaled between pro riders Todd Wells and Mikki Douglass, illustrating some sort of safe bicycling behavior I absolutely wasn’t paying attention to. But as the day wore on, something clicked. I kinda liked this mountain biking thing.

My dad bought a Klein Mantra – a horribly conceived but beautiful looking full suspension, and got me a Specialized hardtail with a Rockshox Quadra 21R fork – basically a suspension fork full of rubber wine corks instead of things like springs, air chambers or oil dampers.


My dad and me geared up for Northstar in the late 90s.

We started riding after school, and heading back over to Santa Cruz on the weekends. We progressed, went farther, took trips to the Northstar Mountain Bike Park, Marin, Mammoth Mountain and beyond. I biked with friends, but this was really something my dad and I shared. I don’t know how many times we pedaled up St. Josephs hill after school, or how many times he locked the keys in the car at Wilder Ranch on a Sunday trip. I ran up the trail on the one ride I wasn’t with him on when he managed to break his collarbone.

I started working at a bike shop – Summit Bicycles, walking distance from my high school. I had a sport. I was deeply involved. I poured over magazines and dreamt about the wild full suspension designs of the late 1990s. I even got a purple Trek Y-bike with a lime-green Sean Palmer edition Manitou fork – the long travel one – you know, with 80mm of trail-destroying squish.

Stephen, me, Jesse and Danny at Wilder Ranch.

Stephen, me, Jesse and Danny at Wilder Ranch, late 90s.

College came and I landed in a strange, flat land without hill or trail – UC Davis. But I adapted. Bought myself a Lance Armstrong fan club Trek road bike and joined the college team, piling on hundreds of miles a week in training. Training for the back of the pack, apparently.

To say I was burnt out and over the bike when I graduated would be an understatement, and moving to Truckee, a land of lakes and rivers and hiking and skiing and climbing – my bikes collected dust.

Then I met Lynn.

Lynn and me on Tahoe's Flume Trail.

Lynn and me on Tahoe’s Flume Trail, 2015.

I’m not going to get all flowery and mushy here, don’t worry, but among her infinite amazing qualities was this – she reignited the spark of my long-dormant love of bikes.

Together we’ve ridden the fantastic TAMBA-built trails of South Lake Tahoe, great old and new trails around Truckee, classics like the Flume Trail and the Downieville Downhill, and traveled as far as Bend, Oregon with mountain bikes in tow.

I once got to interview a climber I really admire for Tahoe Quarterly – I talk about it here. It wasn’t his ability to climb the hardest routes that gained my admiration, however, it was the fact he’d been doing it for 40-plus years, and still genuinely enjoyed it. He credited that ability to sharing the experiences with people he cared about.

If that’s true – and after listening to him for a while I think it is – then I’m set. I’d learned it intuitively when I rode with my dad in the eucalyptus-perfumed air of Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ve learned it again with Lynn in the pine-and-sage oxygen-deficient air of the Sierra Nevada. It’s a lesson I don’t intend to forget.

A note to the bike industry, from a gear geek

I have the unique perspective, not only of 20 years around mountain biking, but of someone who ignored it for a chunk of time in the middle – a time when big wheels, dropper posts, and a lot of other innovations came to be.

For the most part, things went as they should – the radical divergent suspension designs of the 1990s were paired down and refined, giving us more travel and better travel while reducing weight and improving pedaling. VPP was just coming around again with Santa Cruz under the guidance of Gary Yokota, a friend of the shop I worked at (Crossroads Bicycles), and I’m not surprised to see its popularity and influence on other designs.

Other “innovations” I’m more dubious about, at least in timing and execution. The cool new geometry of short chainstays, long front centers, super short stems? Gary Fisher already did that, in the late 1990s. Look up the Sugar, and don’t pretend its new. Plus size tires? That happened too, albeit only on DH bikes. I’m not saying either is a bad – quite the opposite – I just don’t think it needed to take this long to get here.

All-in, however, I’m amazed at bikes today, and I’m happy to be riding my new-fangled 27.5 all mountain bike replete with dropper post. It’s pretty sweet. Now lets bring prices under control, shall we?

Honda Element Alabama Hills

Honda Element Love, aka #toasterlife

About six years ago I was two winters deep into living in snow country (remember when Truckee/Tahoe was snow country) in a 1991 2wd Toyota Camry – not ideal. I knew I needed something all wheel drive, and the vehicle du jour of Tahoe is the Subaru Outback.

But I had always had a soft-spot for the box-on-wheels that is the Honda Element. I found a used 2005 in a green I like to think evokes the fragrant sage of the high desert eastern Sierra, and it became my ultra-light minimalist motorhome. I loved it from the start.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

Getting the coffee and tea ready in the morning, Bishop, Ca. Photo by Lynn Baumgartner.

I’ve driven it up to Portland Oregon and down to San Diego, all over the Sierra and California Coast. I’ve packed it with camping gear, climbing gear, bikes, skis and buddies – sometimes all at once. I’ve slept in it, read books while waiting out storms in it, and worked on my laptop in it.

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More Fun, Less Forum Fighting

I’ve been in and around the outdoor industry for years – bike shops, ski shops, outdoor gear shops etc. I have been a gear geek and outdoor sports enthusiast for longer. The internet has been a great tool for sharing information.

And it’s also been a great way to get countless users to lose sight of the whole point of mountain biking, skiing, or whatever sport they’re trying to enjoy in the first place, instead spending countless hours going down the rabbit hole.

Internet forums are a great place to ask advice – what type of tires are right for the region I live? What skis for my terrain and ability level? There is so much choice (too much choice? See the million wheel size and hub standards in mountain biking now) in outdoor gear, it’s nice to get a little advice along the way.

But experts of the internet, kings of the digital domain, before you lay down the law with a snarky retort to the 3,001st person asking which ski is best or which bike is better, please remember one thing: The point of these activities in simple. FUN. Sure, fitness, competitiveness, mastery of skill are nice, but the underlying purpose is to have fun.

That means there isn’t a right or wrong ski, bike, shoe or backpack. I see this over and over again on internet forums: if you use a 98 mm waisted ski, not a 88 mm ski, you’re doing it wrong. If you are on a 120 mm travel mountain bike, not a 160, you’re doing it wrong. This is moronic, plain and simple.

If you have fun pedaling smooth XC trails on a slacked out enduro sled and you’re having fun, good. If you’re arcing turns down the groomer on 120 mm fully rockered powder skis and having a blast, you’re doing it right. Don’t let anybody tell you differently.

Sure, there may be a better tool for the job, but getting bogged down in number crunching is the opposite of what these sports are about, and looking at your skis, reading they’re 10mm too wide for the day and deciding not to ride is just sad. Go outside, have fun.

Another trend I see on the forums that drives me nuts are what I consider fashion questions. 29ers don’t look cool. What color helmet should I wear? Wearing a full face helmet on a cross country trail makes you look like a tool. STOP! If you want to play fashion show, pick another sport. I hear if you pick a team sport, they’ll pick a cute little color coordinated number for you. These are individual sports. Be an individual.

I’d probably get more clicks if I wrote a top 10 list of fashion flops in sport climbing, taking the 1,327th cheep shot at the shirtless bro with a beanie, but I honestly don’t care what other people wear while climbing, and neither should you. It affects our climbing zero percent. What skis you are on affects me zero percent.

The only place one person might voice objection to another person’s gear selection is if it’s doing harm – violating Leave No Trace, damaging a climbing crag, putting downhill skiers in the backcountry in harm’s way.

So that’s my rant. Do your homework, but don’t get bogged down in minutiae. Offer advice, but don’t mistake your opinion for gospel. Go outside, and have fun.


Mountain Biking Tahoe’s Flume Trail

In the nine years I’ve lived in the Truckee/Tahoe area, one classic I hadn’t ever gotten around to was the Tahoe Flume Trail, a popular bike ride on an old flume route above Tahoe’s east shore. The point of this ride is the views, rather than super-fun or super-fast riding, and we took full advantage, stopping at lookout after lookout.


The route is about 14 miles, starting with a four mile climb (the last half-mile of which is a bit of a butt-kicker), then turns into a fairly flat (with some good exposure) single track, ending in a fire road descent down Tunnel Creek.

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